Tag Archives: Evangelism

God’s People, part 168: Philip

Read John 14:8-14

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”  (Philippians 4:13, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Rubens_apostel_philippusPart 168: Philip. Philip is one of the disciples/apostles in all four of the Gospel accounts; however, we know very little of him from the synoptic Gospels (e.g. Mark, Matthew, and Luke). Instead, Philip is more prominently figured in the Gospel of John. It is there that we get a sense of who Philip was and how he interacted with the other disciples and with Jesus.

Philip was from the town of Bethsaida, the hometown of Andrew and Peter. According to John’s Gospel, Andrew and an unnamed disciple were followers of John the Baptist. Once John proclaimed Jesus as the Lamb of God, Andrew and the unnamed disciple left the Baptist and followed Jesus. The unnamed disciple has traditionally been understood to be the beloved disciple, whom has also traditionally understood to be John, brother of James. We will refer to him as John to keep things less confusing.

From there, Andrew and John took Jesus to Simon, whom he renamed Cephas (Aramaic for Peter). Presumably, John’s brother James was also there. These were the first four disciples called by Jesus. The next disciple, the fifth to be called, was Philip of Bethsaida. We do not know what Philip’s trade was, whether he was a fisherman or not, but we do know that the Gospel is written in such a way that seems to indicate that Andrew and Peter knew Philip. Bearing a Greek name, it has been speculated Philip may have spoken Greek and may have been known to some Greek pilgrims who were visiting Jerusalem (John 12:21). If that was the case, it certainly went on to be a benefit to him while serving Jesus.

It is believed that Philip was among the disciples at the wedding in Cana, since he was called prior to the event. Philip also introduces Jesus to Nathanael, who was also among those at the wedding. Philip, like Andrew, seemed to have a passion for bringing people into a relationship with his master. On top of introducing Nathanael, Philip let Andrew know that there were Greek pilgrims who wanted to speak to Jesus, and they both went to tell Jesus about it (John 12:22).

Overall, he was a disciple who showed great faith; however, he did waiver in that faith and was sometimes confused in his understanding of Jesus over all. When Jesus asked the disciples to feed the 5,000 men (not counting women and children), it was Philip who was confounded and questioned Jesus on how that was even possible. It was also during the Last Supper that Philip didn’t seem to understand that by knowing and seeing Jesus, he had actually known and seen the Father as well.

I think, if we are honest, Philip is representative of most of us who follow Christ. We are passionate and want to serve Christ faithfully. Sometime, even, we come through on that; however, we often times get confounded by the seeming impossibilities surrounding us, and get lost in focusing on what we do not have as opposed to focusing on what we do have: CHRIST.

The challenge for us to stop relying on our own power and on our own abilities. They will fall short every time, and they will definitely leave us feeling hopeless. Rather, we need to place our faith in Christ, in whom all things are possible if we will only believe and take the step of faith. The challenge, therefore, is for us to place our faith wholly in Christ and to move forward in our Christian walk of faith, even when things seem impossible.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Faith is not about knowledge, it’s about trusting Christ enough to move forward even though one does not know.

PRAYER
Lord, give me the kind of faith that moves mountains. I can do all things through you who gives me strength. Amen.

God’s People, part 166: Andrew

Read John 6:1-15

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of these men who heard what John said and then followed Jesus. Andrew went to find his brother, Simon, and told him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which means ‘Christ’)”  (John 1:40-41, NLT).

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

jesus-feeds-the-5000-AndrewPart 166: Andrew. When it comes to the disciples there are a few we know without thinking hard about. Peter is the first to come to mind because he was not only the first called by Jesus, but he also was the one who Jesus renamed from Simon to Peter and said that he was the “rock” or “pebble” (depending on interpretation of the Greek) upon which Christ was going to build his church.  The next are a pair of disciples named James and John. John is the most known of those two; however, because James is so often paired with him they get notoriety together. They are the one’s Jesus humorously and affectionately nicknamed Boanerges, or Sons of Thunder. They must have been a fiery pair.

Another disciple who is forever etched in our memory is Matthew, the reformed tax collector, as well as Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus. Then, perhaps, we might remember Andrew, who was Peter’s brother, if we remember him at all. Of course, most who have read the gospels will remember him; however, outside of Biblical literacy, there is a less likely chance that someone would remember Andrew alongside the aforementioned disciples.

With all of that said, Andrew was actually among the core leadership with in the group of twelve disciples. Since his name was always mentioned after Peter’s, it can be safely presumed that Andrew was most likely Peter’s younger brother. While we cannot be sure why Andrew is less present when Jesus’ is alone with his “inner circle”, he was among the four disciples who were closest to Jesus.

Andrew has rightly become known as the disciple who brought people into a personal relationship with Christ. While Matthew, Mark, and Luke record the events a bit differently, in John 1:40-42, we find that Andrew was the one who brought his brother Simon to meet Jesus. In the Synoptic Gospels, it just states that Jesus saw Peter and Andrew fishing and called out to them. This could be simply away of just condensing the story.

In John, on the other hand, the account is more fleshed out with detail. For instance, we learn that Andrew and the beloved disciple (who may or may not have been John) were followers the Baptist, who pointed Jesus out to them as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”. From that point on, Andrew and the beloved disciple followed Jesus and Andrew brought Jesus to Simon, who was renamed Cephas (which is Aramaic for Peter).

Also, when Jesus was preaching to the multitude (over 5,000 men, women and children), Jesus asked the disciples to feed the people. They all begin to panic, for how could they possibly feed that many people. It was in this moment that Andrew spoke up and brought a little boy to Jesus, and pointed out that this boy had a basket with five loaves of bread and two fish. Here, again, Andrew was bringing someone into contact and relationship with the Lord.

Yet, Andrew was not necessarily a person with rock solid faith. In fact, as you will see, none of the disciples were. In the same breath that he pointed out the boy to Jesus, he anxiously marveled, “But what good are [these 5 loaves and 2 fish] with a crowd this size?” Even Andrew, who proclaimed to Simon Peter, “We have found the Messiah” (John 1:41), found himself lacking in faith in the midst of seemingly impossible circumstances. Yet, the Lord did not reject Andrew as a result of his faithlessness, rather he performed a miraculous sign out of the meager offering of the boy Andrew brought to him.

The question for us is this: do we find ourselves doubting even though we know that Jesus Christ is the King of kings and the Lord of lords? The challenge for us is to step out in faith even when the odds seem squarely against us. The challenge is to let Christ work IN SPITE of the circumstances. The challenge for us is also to trust that even when we fail and/or fall short, that Christ does not reject us, but works in spite of us and shows us that he truly is in control. Let us be a people who, like Andrew, eagerly bring people to the Lord even when we are not certain where we stand on the circumstances around us. Let us dare to bring people to the One who is not imprisoned by the fear that shackles us.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

PRAYER
Lord, thank you for loving me even when I fail to live into the faith you’ve called me. Give me an eagerness to share your love with others and bring them into a relationship with you. Amen.

The Unknown God

Read Acts 17:16-34

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22)

img_0775One of my favorite accounts of Paul is in Acts, where he traveled to Athens, Greece. There he walked among the temples and the markets, marveling at all of the different sights that he saw. Just think of a large city you’ve yet to visit and imagine what it would be like to go there for the first time. The towering buildings, the crowds of people bustling by, the bright lights and the busy roads. Paul would have been equally amazed upon arriving at Athens, the epicenter of western philosophy and cultural significance.

While walking through the temples, he saw the great statue of Zeus, as well as the statue of Athena, the patron goddess of the city of Athens. Paul even saw an altar that had inscribed on it: “to the unknown god”. Paul was taken back by that. These people had a god for everything and for every god they had a statue; however, they didn’t just stop there, they also alotted for gods they might not know. I can imagine the excitement welled up in Paul, who was a deeply educated person. I imagine that the creative wheels began to churn in his philosophical mind.

Before going on with this story, before I tell you what Paul did in response to this experience he had, I would like to tell you what Paul did not do. He did not scoff at or reject the Greek culture. He did not storm out of Athens in order to get far away from “those heathens” or “those pagans.” He did not march up to the town center and begin to tell the people there that they had it ALL WRONG. He did not tell them things in a language foreign to them, nor did he expect them to come to him to learn about what he believed in.

I raise up what he DID NOT DO because I find that those are the exact things many Christians and many churches are doing. We scoff and/or reject the culture. I have seen churches collect “secular” CDs and DVDs from their youth and destroy them so that they purge their youth of the secular culture. We  often look at non-Christians and/or those who do not attend church judgmentally, we approach people with different beliefs and let them know how right we are and how they should see things our way. What’s more, we also speak to them using church language if we speak to them at all. That leads me to my final observation, churches often expect people to walk through their doors seeking “the truth” rather than the church seeking to bring the truth out to others.

Paul did none of the above; rather, what Paul did was brilliant. He took something from their own culture and religion (the altar to the unknown god) and used it to spark a conversation that led people to a conversation about Jesus Christ. He did not scoff at them, but praised “how religious” they were. He did not judge them, but praised them for having such devotion that they would leave room for an god not known to them. He did not tell them what imbiciles they were and that they should listen to him and he spoke to them using their own language and their own culture as points of reference. Finally, he did not wait for them to find him, but he found them and intitiated the conversation.

This sort of ministry model is the one that the church needs to begin to master if it is going to reach those who are desperately in need of the hope, the healing, and the wholeness that Christ has to offer. The church needs to get off of its pedastal and humble itself so that it can effectively engage with people at THEIR  level. The church needs to heed Christ’s warning to “judge not” and start recognizing the good in people who are different from them. It needs to listen as much as it speaks and it needs to speak in a language that makes sense to the people it is speaking to.

Most importantly, the church needs to realize that it is NOT SOMETHING SPECIAL for spectators to come and see. The church, to the contrary, is the body of Christ and is called to be out where the people are. The church is called to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ out into the world. The building should be nothing more than a resource to help in that mission. I pray that you will read today’s Scripture and reflect on Paul’s ministry model. I pray that we all will be challenged to see the wisdom in it, so that we can all become better witnesses of God’s unconditional, inviting, and transformational love.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Evangelism is not an option for the Christian life.” – Luis Palau

PRAYER
Lord, help me to reach people where they are, with words and deeds that they understand, so that I may effectively witness to the Gospel. Amen.

The Good News IS That GOOD!

Read Matthew 10:24-27

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand?” (Luke 14:31)

conformity-2aBeing different is not always an easy thing. In fact, I would say it is rarely an easy thing to be different. For whatever reason, humans strive to be like the people they around. It almost seems instinctual to conform. Perhaps it is, in part, a survival instinct. Perhaps it is intricately tied in with us being social creatures. Whatever the reason, people lean toward conformity.

I even find myself conforming to things without really giving it much thought. It just seems so natural not to resist the status quo, it seems so safe and comfortable. And, indeed, to not conform certainly ushers in unintended consequences. I have learned this, big time, as I changed my lifestyle regarding what I eat. Two years ago, as many know, I went from being an omnivore to an herbivore, meaning that I no longer eat meat or any products derived from an animal.

At first the reason I did so was for my health. Doctors, family, friends, and others had badgered me for years about losing weight. I had gotten as heavy as 315 lbs (though I was only 306.9 lbs when I started my juice fast) and people kept telling me I needed to do something for my health and for my family, especially for my wife and daughters. Of course, that’s easier said than done; however, finally, in January of 2012 I found something that worked. I had tried to lose weight before, but I would only lose so much and then gain even more back. But juicing for 60 days and then remaining vegan worked…and I felt healthier than I can EVER remember.

That’s good new right? So, naturally, that led me to want to share that good news with others! That’s what we WANT to do with good news when we receive it, right? We want to share it. The only problem is…people often don’t want to hear the good news. My non-conformity to the American lifestyle, and my sharing that with others, turned into a threat for some, and an annoyance for others. Some (not all) of the same people who initially encouraged me to lose weight, were now suddenly singing a different tune. I had stopped conforming to the typical American lifestyle and that bore some consequences.

Now, I am not sharing this to bemoan the consequences that have come with my being vegan. Quite the opposite. I am happy with my lifestyle changes! I am thankful for the people who challenged me to lose weight and I am glad I found a lifestyle that is TRULY healthy. The point of this, rather, is to say that there is a cost to being transformed. The Good News of Jesus is even more transformative, and even more non-conformist, to the Western culture we live in than my being vegan is. And, without any doubt, there is a definite cost to being transformed by that good news.

You will want to share it with others and not everyone will be very receptive to it. They may get annoyed, and many will even feel threatened by the Gospel because it is calling them to change from their conformity to the world. The Gospel calls us to be LOVE, to partake in social justice, to love GOD ABOVE ALL ELSE, and to become the SERVANT OF ALL! That is a large pill for many in our self-centered world to swallow and we need to be aware of that reality and prepare for that cost. Yet, the GOOD NEWS is just THAT GOOD and, if we are truly transformed by it, we will feel compelled to share it regardless of the cost. So today’s challenge is for you to count the cost, but don’t let that stop you from sharing the LOVE!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Conformity often bears with it the larger, more expensive cost.

PRAYER

Lord, guide me in your ways and fill me with your good news. If I must conform, let it me to your ways and to your will. Amen.

Let Harmony Ring

Read Psalm 133

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.” (Galatians 5:13-15)

elements_of_harmony_circle__vector__by_akili_amethyst-d5fxotcEvery person who has ever walked the earth has run into somebody at some point that they just don’t like. Perhaps the person seems snooty, or they just rub you the wrong way; we have all had the experience of being around people who seem to clash with our personalities and sensibilities. It is an unavoidable consequence to living in a community.

I have often heard some even state that they “hate” people out of frustration because of the way someone else treated them. To be completely honest, I have found myself uttering those words…especially when I used to commute long distances in heavy traffic. I have no doubt that I am not alone when I say that there are times I wish I were alone with no one else around to cut me off, give me attitude, or say something hurtful to me.

Yet, when we stop to think about it, the alternative is far, far worse. Just take a moment and try and imagine a world in which you truly were alone. Try and imagine a world where there was, literally, no one around to “bother” you. What kind of world would that be? How would you truly manage without the presence of others? How would you survive even a day without others to socially interact with?

There are many movies that try and picture what such an apocalyptic world would look like, where a person wakes up to find him or herself isolated in a world where no other human life exists. These films usually throw in zombies or other human survivors and never really explore what life alone would truly be like. Perhaps that is because life alone is something we really cannot fathom…it’s something that goes against our very nature and experience as human beings.

As children of God, we were designed to be in relationship with one another. We were called to live in harmony with other people. Some people get the idea that harmony means that we all hold hands and agree to skip down the yellow brick road together; however, that is not true harmony at all. Harmony is not someone always agreeing with me and what I believe to be correct; rather, harmony happens when people simultaneously put aside their differences to find common ground to stand on.

Harmony takes work. It does not come easy; however, we were created to live harmoniously with each other. God does not wish for us to gossip, slander, hold grudges, or be hateful toward others; rather, God wants us to be loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good and faithful toward one another. We should be striving to bring harmony into our communities, not discord.

Today’s challenge for us is to be agents of harmony. There are plenty of people who will rub us the wrong way, there are plenty of people who we will not particularly like, and there are certainly plenty of people who are different than us. Today we are being challenged to look past that and to see the commonality that we all share together…the commonality of being children of God, made in God’s image. Look past the differences, allow for people to be who they are, and love them as God loves them. Let the harmonizing begin!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!” – The Apostle Paul in Romans 12:16

PRAYER

Lord, I pray that I may become an agent of harmony within the communities I am a part of. Amen.

 

A Time to Zip

Read John 17

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.” (Psalms 52:8)

zip-liningWhile I was not a huge fan of high school while I was in it, there are some things that stand out in my mind that I look back on and cherish as valuable learning experiences. One of the things I remember was that our high school had this outdoors obstacle course that had all sorts of stuff set up in it, including an awesome and adrenaline pumping zip line. This was one of those things that people either loved or hated.

One of the teachers would climb up to the zip line first, and then invite students, one at a time, to climb up to where he was. Before climbing, a teacher at the bottom would place the student in a harness that had a cable attached to it. The one end of the cable was attached to the student, it then traveled up to a pulley and back down to the teacher on the ground who would act as the counter weight. This was to ensure that if the student fell she or he would dangle and slowly be lowered down to safety.

Both teachers would ensure the students that it was perfectly safe so long as they obeyed the safety rules. All the student had to do was trust the teacher, climb the pole. Once he/she got up to the platform, they would be harnessed into the zip line and off he or she could go. All that was required, both to climb up the pole and to zip down the line, was a little trust. one had to trust that the teacher was harnessing them up right and they had to trust that, should one slip and begin to fall, the teacher to whom one is harnessed would be able to counter the weight and lower the student safely back to the ground.

There were some students that didn’t blink an eye before putting their trust in the teachers. They were the ones who climbed up to the top and had the thrill of zipping down that line.  Others, myself included, were a little more cynical about the teacher’s ability to “save” me. Many of us never even made it up the pole at all; rather, we sat there looking up…only imagining who awesome that zip line might be. I, and others like me, simply could not get ourselves to trust.

This is a great metaphor for the church. Christ has called us to place our trust in him. What’s more, Christ has also asked us to place trust in each other. On the surface, that sounds easy enough, right? In reality, this is not an easy thing for most people. Most of us Christians find ourselves way too cynical to place our trust in each other. We can talk all day long about trusting Jesus, but we cannot bring ourselves to trust others in our church and/or fellowship.

In one sense, it is understandable that we have such a hard time in trusting each other. There is great risk associated. We may see our vision of the fading into the shape of someone else’s vision. We may place our trust in the wrong people, only to find out that we’ve been used and taken advantage of. There are lots of things that can go wrong with placing our trust in each other.

Yet, Jesus took that risk in his own life and calls us to do the same. We are to place our trust in God, to place our trust in God’s church (in and through whom the Holy Spirit works), and to be trustworthy to those who are trusting us.  Not one of us is perfect and sometimes our trust will be broken and/or we will break others trust; however, if we are ever to move forward, if we are ever to take the leap of faith and zip down the line, if we are ever to move beyond the paralysis of our cynicism and our fears, we will have to place our trust in God and in each other. Even when people fail us, God never will. So, what do you have to lose?

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Who trusts in God’s unchanging love, builds on the rock that naught can move.” – Georg Neumark

PRAYER

Lord, guide me to be more trusting of you and of your church. You have not just called me but have called others. Help me to work with them and to trust them so that your work may be done here in my community. Amen.

 

<3 Yourself

Read Matthew 14:22-23; Mark 6:45-46; John 6:14-15

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“To get wisdom is to love oneself; to keep understanding is to prosper.” (Proverbs 19:8)

HeartHave you ever stopped to notice how busy you are? Or have you ever stopped to notice how busy everyone around you is? This world is non-stop business, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and three hundred sixty-five days a year.  The world keeps on turning, spinning on its invisible axis, and there isn’t anything we can do about it.

Before we know it, years have gone by, our kids have grown up and we are wondering where the time went and not sure where we were when all of life blew past us like a jet plane.  We hear plenty of catch phrases like, “Don’t let the world pass you by”, or “Don’t take life for granted”; yet, we often do take life for granted because we simply are too busy to do otherwise.

As a pastor of a church, a district youth director, a chaplain, a husband, and a father, I certainly know too well what being busy is all about. Each one of those titles bears with it a whole host of different duties that give me plenty of places to be and plenty of things to do. In the midst of all of the stuff that I have to do on any given day, it seems so easy to forget the one title has always defined who I am. The title of being ME.

How easy it is to forget that, in the midst of all the stuff each one of us has to do, it is important that we not forget to care for ourselves in the process.  After all, God created us, not to be eternally busy, but to enjoy God’s creation. If we are a part of God’s creation, then it certainly follows that God created us to enjoy ourselves. But how many of us truly spend time on ourselves?  How many of us truly take time away from our jobs, our chores and our families to spend quality time with ourselves? My guess is not too many of us.

But God is calling us to spend time with ourselves. God wants us to get to know who we are, to intimately spend time building a relationship with innermost selves. Jesus certainly knew this. If anyone was busy, Jesus was. Between preaching and teaching and healing and traveling and all of the other amazing things, Jesus was just about as busy as anyone could get; however, he also had no qualms about going up to the mountaintop to be alone and to pray.

God is calling us to do the same. There is nothing wrong with being busy, and there is certainly a lot of work for all of us to do; however, there is something wrong with not taking care of ourselves. And if we do not take care of ourselves, we really have no business trying to take care of others.

That is why, since January of 2012, I have made a point of taking care of myself. I run, I compose music, I write poetry, I sketch using charcoal, I hike and do a lot of different activities that get me in touch with myself.  I have made it a part of my spiritual discipline to be alone and to care for me.

The question is not if you can do it…but will you do it? God wants you to get to know yourself, to spend alone time praying and meditating on Scripture. God wants us to not only be in relationship with God and with others, but to also be in relationship with ourselves.  It is only then that we will be able to find the strength to do all of the other things God is calling us to do.  Think about it. God is calling you to relax a little and enjoy being you! After all, you are a part of God’s good creation! So praise God and enjoy yourself!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.” – Lucille Ball

PRAYER

Lord teach me to love myself just as much as you love me. Then send me out with that love so I can share it with others. Amen.